Amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act and related regulations to take effect from 1 July 2013
30 Jun 2013 Posted in Press releases
- The amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act  (LAAA) and related regulations will come into effect from 1 July 2013. These will potentially benefit another 300,000 people. Legal aid in Singapore is administered by the Legal Aid Bureau (LAB), a department under the Ministry of Law.
Amendments to the LAAA
- The amendments to the LAAA were passed in February 2013 and covered three key areas:
- Updating the Means Test;
- Greater discretion for LAB in the administration of the legal aid scheme; and
- Strengthening the co-payment principle.
Updating the means test
- To be eligible for legal aid, applicants must pass both a Means Test and a Merits Test. Under the Means Test previously, an applicant’s annual disposable income  and disposable capital  cannot exceed $10,000 respectively. Under the Merits Test, the Legal Aid Board  will assess whether the applicant’s case has merit from the legal perspective.
- The amendments widen the coverage of the Means Test by expanding the existing deductibles  and creating new deductibles for the disposable income and capital criteria. The changes include:
- For assessment of annual disposable income
- An increase in the annual deductible for the main applicant from $4,500 to $6,000; for his spouse from $3,500 to $6,000 ; and for his dependents from $3,500 to up to $6,000, to account for the increase in basic living expenditure; and
- An increase in the maximum annual rental relief from $1,000 to $20,000, based on the lower end of the prevailing open-market rental rate of three-room flats in suburban housing estates.
- For assessment of disposable capital
A comparison of the existing and new deductibles for legal aid eligibility is illustrated in the
- To disregard up to $46,000 of the surrender value of life insurance policies, excluding investment-linked policies, so that needy residents with life insurance policies can still qualify for legal aid;
- To exclude Central Provident Fund investments as these cannot be withdrawn to pay for legal services; and
- An increase in the assessed annual value  of applicants’ self-owned dwelling-house,from $7,800 to $13,000, in line with the maximum annual value of HDB flats, that will be excluded in the calculation of the applicants’ disposable capital.
- For assessment of annual disposable income
Greater discretion for LAB in the administration of the legal aid scheme
- LAB will be given greater discretion to grant additional reliefs for applicants in certain types of matrimonial cases, in the calculation of their disposable capital. These cases include all cases involving minors, whether it is divorce, custody or child maintenance, as well as cases involving the personal protection of a child and/or spouse.
- Applicants for such cases will enjoy an additional relief of $5,000, and a higher assessed AV of up to $20,000 (instead of $13,000), for the disposable capital portion of the Means Test.
Strengthening the co-payment principle
- To foster greater self-ownership of legal aid cases, applicants will have to pay a contribution to LAB, regardless of their level of disposable income or capital and whether they have received a Grant of Aid . The quantum of contribution payable will be based on their financial means and the extent of work done by LAB.
Amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Regulations (LAAR)
- The amendments to the LAAR will also come into effect on 1 July 2013. The amendments pertain mainly to enhancing LAB’s efficiency and updating the applicant’s responsibilities. In particular, to better recognise the contributions of Assigned Solicitors who take on legal aid cases, the maximum non-taxed bill that LAB may award to them for each case will be increased from $750 to $1,000.
Third-Party Casino Exclusion
- In addition to the LAAA and LAAR amendments, all applicants who are granted legal aid will be subjected to Third-Party Casino Exclusion from 1 August 2013. This is consistent with the Government’s policy of protecting the financially vulnerable from getting into debt.
- Under Third-Party Casino Exclusion, applicants shall not enter, remain in or take part in any gaming on any local casino premises. The exclusion will remain in force until all active legal aid cases involving the applicant are closed. For more information on Casino Exclusion, members of the public may call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1800-6-668-668.
- With the amendments, legal aid will be extended to more Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, enabling greater access to justice to those who need but cannot afford basic legal services.
 The Act provides for the grant of legal aid and advice to Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents.
 Disposable income is the total income of the applicant and spouse (if any) for the past 12 months, after deducting the applicable deductibles and reliefs under the Act, such as personal deductible, dependent deductibles, and CPF contributions.
 Disposable capital is the property which the applicant possesses or is entitled to, such as, money in hand or in banks, shares or vehicles, after excluding the applicable categories of property under the Act, such as HDB flat, CPF moneys, etc.
 The Legal Aid Board comprises the Director of Legal Aid and at least two independent lawyers from private practice.
 A deductible is a sum which is deducted from the annual gross income of a legal aid applicant to arrive at his annual disposable income. It covers basic expenses, such as for daily necessities.
 The dependent deductible may be reduced from $6,000 to the actual amount that the main applicant and spouse are paying towards the support of the dependent.
 The AV is the estimated annual rent of the property if it were to be rented out, excluding the furniture, furnishings and maintenance fees. It is determined after analysing the rents of similar or comparable properties. The basis of determining the AV is the same whether the property is rented out, owner-occupied or left vacant.
 A Grant of Aid, currently known as a legal aid certificate, is required for the applicant to receive legal representation.
Last updated on 30 Jun 2013